You can see, I wasn’t able to decide on a title. That’s because I wanted to express more than a “How to get started with Journaling” kind of vibe. There are a lot of posts about that already. Rather, this post depicts my struggle to get into this habit.
It turned out that it took way too long to get into writing a simple entry with too many steps. Taking out a notebook and starting to write is a lot faster and cheaper.
For more details about the hows and whys, dear reader, continue.
Digital Note Taking
Let me tell you right off the bat, that I tried MANY things in the digital area. Wikis, note takers, markdown, not markdown. Syncs, dedicated software, and lately, Obsidian.
Obsidian works the best for me to this day. I use it for a lot of things, like notes for when I’m working on an issue. I use it as a second brain to store information. But that’s about it. I found it cumbersome when I wanted to use it for anything more/else. Such as journaling or Zettelkasten even.
As a Second-Brain it is invaluable. I search in it and review it when I can. But as a means to get into journaling and building a habit, it’s not working out. Why you may ask dear reader?
Simple. It takes way too many steps to get to it. Even after I reduced some, it still takes too many steps. In the book, Atomic Habits, to build a habit, you need four basic steps.
One of the most important steps is Make a new Habit more accessible/visible/obvious. Obsidian is way too far away.
What are some of the steps to access Obsidian, let’s say, in the morning?
- Wake up
- (( do other, none relevant things ))
- Walk to the computer
- Sit down ( Here is where it will fork around a bit )
- (( if, I remembered on the previous day to not turn off my computer but let is sleep ))
- Hit a key on the keyboard to let it wake up
- Wait for my monitor to spin up
- Hit a couple more keys and get impatient in waiting
- The monitor finally turns on
- Log in
- (( if, I turned my computer off because I don’t want it to run all day then night ))
- Turn on the computer
- Wait of encryption to unlock
- The rest from above
- (( if, I remembered on the previous day to leave Obsidian open as the forefront app ))
- Once the computer is unlocked, create a new note
- Format it, add some title, start writing ( done )
- (( if, I didn’t ))
- Switch to / Open Obsidian
- Create a new note
- Format it, add some title, start writing ( done )
- (( if, I left a new entry already open ( this is a HUGE if ) and Obsidian is in focus ))
- Start writing
So, even if I develop the habit to prepare for the next time ( which is also a thing in Atomic Habits ) I would have to remember a lot to do for it to work perfectly. And even then I would have to wait for all the things to turn on.
This is just too much time. Second Brain works, because I’m already at my computer when I’m learning something/do some kind of research/working. If I’m not at my computer, I probably have my phone with me, on which I can type rather quickly. So… why not just use that, you might ask, dear reader?
- Wake up
- Get my phone
- Unlock with pin ( I hate any kind of recognition thing that lets people unlock my phone with my unconscious body )
- Open the app ( I put it in an easily accessible location )
- Click / Switch / Swipe through it to open a new note ( or press a button that immediately opens a new note )
- Start typing
This is almost reasonable. But turns out, I hate having to type in my pin, select the app then press another thing. It’s just too high of an entry point. Maybe if my habit would already be formed the urge to do the thing I wanted would be higher. However… There is another aspect to it that many will not acknowledge or glance over rather quickly.
The sense of not being present
Maybe it is just me, but I think it’s just plain rude if you aren’t living alone. If you have family, and your relationship is good, you would like to engage with them and not bury yourself behind a screen, or immediately sit down in front of the computer. Of course, I can explain to my wife that I’m just journaling or writing down something, but for me, it still feels rude. I can’t help it.
In contrast, when I sit down and write something in a notebook that’s a conversation starter. My 5-year-old daughter immediately gets engaged and asks, what are you writing daddy? If I would be buried in the phone screen she’ll probably nag that I’m not paying attention to her. And, I believe, she would be right in that nag. Therefore, I try to avoid checking my phone too often when I’m around my family. But maybe, that’s just me.
If you aren’t convinced yet, here is another story. Recently, I had to go to a doctor because my knees are busted and need sugary. I write down everything in a small notebook when I feel the need, but this time, I forgot to take it with me, because I was using a different bag.
Thus, I resorted to taking notes and writing down some questions on my phone. The doctor actually got annoyed with me after two seconds, because she thought I’m not paying attention at all. Since it just looked like I was playing with my phone. I explained that, oh, no, no, I’m just taking notes and I have some questions written down here I would like to ask.
She said something like, oh okay, and proceeded to answer, but after a minute or two, she asked me to put it away, because it was annoying. And I completely understood. I never got any side-eye because I was taking notes in my notebook. Even in today’s world, people don’t associate a phone with notes. They associate the phone with playing around. There is a reason why many schools just plain don’t allow the usage of phones in the classroom. Even if you are just taking it to take notes, a notification could pop up, or you could get distracted by other apps on your phone. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Analog Note Taking
Let’s take a stab at analog note-taking now. I think, dear reader, you already read a bunch of things about the benefits of analog note-taking. Hand-eye coordination. Easy to draw, scribble, and be more specific with diagrams, boxes, whatever. Even if you take notes on an iPad, it’s not the same and you know it. Remarkable might work for some, but not all. And it’s expensive to be a pen and paper that you have to charge. Also, today’s notebooks are mostly recycled paper. And if you still aren’t convinced, you can buy the ones which explicitly say, they will contribute to the planet’s health.
We also know the drawbacks. Let’s take a look.
Indeed, a paper can’t have a neat little search engine in it. There is the Second Brain for that sort of information. That said, it can be helped a little bit. Try looking at indexing methods for the written word. I like this detailed post about indexing and indexing techniques from Soren Bjornstad.
Whether you index by page or by keywords it gets a lot better finding things in your notebooks than flipping around pages.
Too much space
After a couple of years of doing this, I would imagine, that there will be several notebooks stored somewhere under your desk or in a drawer. I recommend reading this post from Austin Kleon about how to store and index notebooks.
TL;DR: Label them and have a global index that keeps track of some other indexes in all of the books together. It’s not hard setting it up. Austin has a lot of other great posts about that.
Crumbles after a couple of hundred years
So, why does this work?
Back to the gist of things after this small detour. How did analog note-taking work for me in the end, you might ask dear reader? Quit talking around circles and show us the meat!
Okay, so, compared to the previous activation cost, let’s see what it takes to get started with a notebook.
- Wake up
- (( do other none relevant things ))
- Go to my desk
- Open my notebook at the last entry ( I have a notebook with a place marker )
- Take the pen next to it
- Start writing
That’s it. There are no extra steps whatsoever. The only thing I could make to make this even faster is if it would be next to my bed. But I prefer to write on a desk in relative comfort.
I found myself looking forward to writing within a week of doing this. After a couple of other weeks, I found myself re-reading my journal. Something that I have never done with my digital notes.
I went all out, and I keep track of expenses and projects in a project notebook and a small notebook for the expenses. It works. Why? Because it’s visible. It’s immediate. It’s next to me. I see it all the time. It’s not hidden in an app, not hidden in my computer. It. Is. Right. There.
It turns out, that helps immensely in getting started and building up my habit. I also found myself writing more and more by hand for other things too. For example, I finished Advent Of Code 2022 by writing everything down. It helped a lot. Something about writing and drawing small diagrams helped a lot in understanding the problem. I tried doing that digitally one day. I reverted to paper after a few minutes because it was too cumbersome to create diagrams and map out simple relationships. It’s not impossible, but honestly, you will never replace a simple stroke of a pen with digital technology that doesn’t use a… pen.
Just a preference?
So, there you have it, dear reader. That’s my preference. You read my story, you know what I like and how I learned to get into journaling. Maybe this will help you get started a bit and after the habit is strong, you can try and make it digital. For, I believe, it will never replace my notebook. It’s just way too convenient. I can simply start writing, and drawing, with no battery, no nothing other than the pen drying out or the pages running out.
Thank you for following me on this journey. I hope you enjoyed it.
Have a nice day!